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September 2011
ms cardiff giant
Syracuse-based artist Ty Marshal has created a replica of the Cardiff Giant, according to its original size specifications (ten-feet tall). His replica is going to be buried in Syracuse's Lipe Art Park and then unearthed on October 16, the anniversary of the date on which the Giant was first "found" on William Newell's farm back in 1869.

After being unearthed, Marshal's giant will remain on display in the park, under a tent, for one week. Visitors will be allowed to view it for 25 cents. Then, using a horse and cart, the Giant will be transported to the Atrium in Syracuse's City Hall Commons where it will be displayed until the end of October. Visitors will also be able to buy Cardiff Giant-themed merchandise: soap, chocolate, wine, and coffee. (As a long-time collector of hoax-themed merchandise, I HAVE to get all of that stuff!)

You can find more details about Marshal's project on his website: syracusecardiffgiant.com.

There's actually a long history of recreating the Cardiff Giant. Back in the 1870s quite a few showmen paid artists to recreate the Giant, which they then displayed, as a way to cash in on the popular interest in the phenomenon. The most famous of these replicas was displayed by P.T. Barnum in New York City, and (much to the annoyance of the owners of the real giant) attracted more visitors than the actual giant, which was simultaneously on display a few blocks away.

In 1976, a service club in Cardiff, New York created a "Mrs. Cardiff Giant", which they buried and then unearthed. You can see it (note the breasts) in the slightly blurry picture below.

ms cardiff giant

Currently there are four Cardiff Giants on display (not counting Marshal's new one): at the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown (this is the real giant), the Fort Museum in Fort Dodge, Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Detroit, and the Circus Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin.
Categories: Art, Celebrations, History
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 29, 2011
Comments (2)
Usually when politicians become the victims of photo retouchers it's because they've become undesirable to someone in power, and so they're summarily removed from the photo. It's far less common for their images to be retouched in order to desexualize them. This is usually the fate of actresses and models. But this is what happened recently to Rathika Sitsabaiesan, a young Canadian MP. Her cleavage was erased from the image of her that appears on the House of Commons website. The National Post reports:

Mark Austin of Old Barns, N.S., discovered the discrepancy this week and passed it to the blog contrarian.ca. He was searching for Ms. Sitsabaiesan’s picture because he and his wife were inspired by her performance in Question Period, and wanted to know more about her. He clicked on the picture with cleavage — still available on Google — and saw it vanish before his eyes as he was linked to the parliamentary webpage.

Sitsabaiesan has not commented on the disappearance of her cleavage. It's quite possible she was the one who ordered its removal.


Before and After
Categories: Photos/Videos, Politics
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 29, 2011
Comments (2)
On Monday (Sep 26) an "independent stock trader" named Alessio Rastani appeared on an interview with the BBC to discuss the Eurozone debt crisis. As the interview progressed, it became apparent that Rastani was far more blunt and cynical than most people from the financial community are when talking in public. For instance, in response to the question, "What would make investors more confident?" he came out with this:

I'm a trader. If I see an opportunity to make money, I go with that. Most traders, we don't really care too much how they're going to fix the situation. Our job is to make money from it. And personally I've been dreaming of this moment for three years. I have a confession. I go to bed every night and I dream of another recession. I dream of another moment like this.

Later in the interview he declared:

Governments don't rule the world, Goldman Sachs rules the world.

Watch the interview yourself:



His remarks and demeanor seemed so over the top, that people began to wonder whether he was hoaxing everyone by parodying the cutthroat morality of financial traders. Some people suspected that he was one of the Yes Men — pointing out that he bore a slight resemblance to Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men who had perpetrated the Dow Chemical Hoax during an interview with the BBC in 2004.

Rastani, when challenged, insisted he was real, and the Yes Men said he wasn't one of them. So it appears that Rastani wasn't trying to pull anyone's leg. He was voicing his genuine opinions.

Personally, when I watch the video I don't sense that he's being satirical. Traders tend to be slightly megalomaniacal, attracted to high-risk situations, and convinced that they're smarter than everyone else. He fits the personality type perfectly.

I think Rastani's interview demonstrates Poe's Law — as applied to the world of stock market trading. Poe's Law states: "it's difficult to distinguish between parodies of religious fundamentalism (or, more generally, parodies of any crackpot or extremist belief) and its genuine proponents." In other words, the financial community nowadays is full of crazies. When you listen to them you think, they've got to be joking! But no, they're totally for real.
Categories: Business/Finance
Posted by Alex on Wed Sep 28, 2011
Comments (2)
Recently I read Jan Bondeson's new book, Amazing Dogs: A Cabinet of Canine Curiosities. Bondeson is one of my favorite writers because he's a master at finding incredibly obscure but truly bizarre oddities from history, and he doesn't disappoint in this book. I plan to discuss the book more in a future post, because he's collected a lot of urban legends and hoaxes concerning dogs. For instance, he reveals the story of Greyfriar's Bobby to be a hoax (LaMa has posted about this in the forum). But for now what I want to share is a story he mentions in his first chapter (page 11) about a dog that could supposedly lay eggs. He writes:

Another quaint old dog book is Christian Franz Paullini's Cynographia Curiosa from 1685, a compilation of curious dog lore from innumerable ancient and contemporary sources. Standing out even among Paullini's manifold canine curiosities is the Egg-laying Dog of Vienna. A large mongrel cur, it laid many large eggs via the anus. After each of these strange births, it seemed weak and exhausted, but it soon recovered from its recent confinement and jumped around its master, who showed it as a curiosity. To impress the spectators, and to demonstrate that the eggs were genuine, the enterprising Austrian broke one of the dog's eggs, fried it in a pan, and ate it.

Most normal people would probably think that was an awful story and move on, but I was quite intrigued by it. It reminded me of the story of Mary Toft and the Rabbit Babies, but instead of a woman stuffing herself with dead rabbits, you had a guy stuffing eggs into his dog. Plus, it offered a curious variation on the ancient tradition of "bosom serpent" legends, which feature various animals crawling inside women, growing to full size, and then emerging in unsettling ways. The most famous modern version of these legends is the tale of the girl who gets impregnated by frog (or octopus) eggs while swimming in a pool. In the case of the egg-laying dog, we're dealing with a different species, but the theme of unnatural births is similar.

Unfortunately Bondeson didn't offer any more details about the case of the egg-laying dog, so I embarked on a fact-finding mission of my own to learn more.

First, I was able to find the book he mentioned, Cynographia Curiosa, on Google books. (I love Google Books -- a few years ago it would have been close to impossible to track down such an obscure book, but I found it after less than a minute of searching.) The book is in latin, and doesn't seem to have ever been translated, but dusting off my high-school latin, I found the story of the egg-laying dog in it. I've reproduced the latin text below, and then I've attempted a very rough translation. Actually, I've probably mistranslated parts of it, but it's close enough to tell that Paullini's text offers a few more details than what Bondeson provided, but it omits the detail about the owner of the dog eating one of the eggs:

Paullini Text

This is indeed a marvel, which Jungius, of the Academy of the Curious, has told (in Ephemeriden, Vol 1:2) of the egg-laying dog -- a dog which had devoured some food prepared by a country woman for her hens in order to make them lay larger and more numerous eggs. Following his master on a journey, the dog then was seen by many spectators to lay some eggs, one after another, excreting them through its anus. After which it was greatly tired, but the food having been removed, it was restored to its former vigor. (See Thesaurus Practicus adauct. by Besoldi, p.389). A friend told me a similar story. And we have heard a similar story about a dog in Westphalia that vomited eggs from its mouth. Were these true eggs? Who can believe it!

Paullini, in turn, attributed the story to Jungius. Some more searching revealed that Jungius was the German scholar Georg (or Joachim) Sebastian Jungius, who was apparently a member of a German scientific society known as the Academia Naturae Curiosorum (The Academy of the Curious as to Nature), which published the world's very first scientific journal, Miscellanea curiosa sive ephemeridum medicophysicarum germanicarum Academiae, in which the story of the egg-laying dog appeared (Series 1, Volume 2, page 348). I find it fascinating that early scientists were sitting around seriously considering topics such as egg-laying dogs.

Unfortunately, Google Books doesn't have a copy of the Miscellanea curiosa (at least, not a copy of the relevant volume), nor does any library in San Diego have it, so my investigation ended there.

And at about this stage in my research, I was starting to wonder why I was spending so much time investigating a seventeenth century egg-laying dog. But for what it's worth, I did find out that Bondeson also mentioned the story in an earlier book, The Two-Headed Boy and Other Medical Marvels. But he gave essentially the same details.

Plus, I found online the second reference given by Paullini -- Besold's Thesaurus Practicus. On page 389 it has some kind of reference (again in Latin) to a dog laying eggs, but I can't figure out what it's saying.
Categories: Animals, Birth/Babies
Posted by Alex on Mon Sep 26, 2011
Comments (3)
Coning (or cone-ing) involves ordering an ice-cream cone at a fast-food drive-thru window, and then taking it by the ice cream instead of the cone when it's handed to you. If you do a search for coning on youtube, you can see a lot of examples of it. Even Justin Bieber is a fan of coning.

It's a strange prank because it inverts the typical logic of pranking. Usually pranks involve humiliating or one-upping a victim. For instance, a victim sits on a whoopee cushion, prompting everyone to laugh at him. But in the case of coning, the prankster pays for the ice cream cone and then proceeds to ruin his own cone by grabbing it incorrectly. The person handing him the cone isn't put out in any way. They may be puzzled by the strange behavior, but they're not inconvenienced. In other words, in coning the prankster becomes the victim of his or her own prank.

I was confused by this until (at the risk of greatly overanalyzing this) I realized that coning is essentially a form of breaching experiment. Breaching experiments are a form of experimentation used by social psychologists. They involve acting in a way that violates an unwritten rule of social behavior, and then observing how people respond to this violation. The experiments reveal that society functions smoothly because we all (usually) obey these unwritten social rules. Sniggle.net has collected some examples of famous breaching experiments, which include volunteering to pay more than the posted price for an item, ordering a Whopper at McDonald's, or saying hello at the end of a conversation.

Breaching experiments are most frequently associated with the work of Harold Garfinkel (who died earlier this year). The NY Times, in its obituary of Garfinkel, wrote:

He wrote about so-called “breaching” experiments in which the subjects’ expectations of social behavior were violated; for example, a subject playing tic tac toe was confronted with an opponent who made his marks on the lines dividing the spaces on the game board instead of in the spaces themselves. Their reactions — outrage, anger, puzzlement, etc. — helped demonstrate the existence of underlying presumptions that constitute social life.

So all these videos of coning pranks on youtube can be viewed as examples of amateur breaching experiments. (It's good to see that today's youth has such an interest in social psychology.) And from this perspective, it's interesting to observe the reactions of the fast-food employees to the coning. Most of them simply look with bewilderment at the prankster. Some laugh nervously. But a few get quite angry, even though the prankster isn't doing anything to hurt them. In one video, as a young woman tries to grab her cone by the ice cream, a McDonald's employee pulls the cone away from her and says, "I don't know what you think you're doing, but I could actually mush this in your face." He's obviously quite mad at her attempt to violate the unwritten social rule of how to properly take ice cream cones. (via scribbal.com)


Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 22, 2011
Comments (7)
zebra donkeyUnidentified pranksters broke into the Sussex Horse Rescue Trust in Uckfield, East Sussex and transformed "Ant" the donkey into a zebra by spray-painting stripes on him (express.co.uk). Ant wasn't hurt in any way, though the spray paint reportedly had a strong, unpleasant smell. The RSPCA condemned the prank: "It's shocking people would think it was funny to spray-paint a donkey in this way. We take reports of animals being painted very seriously." This prank immediately reminded me of the tradition of Tijuana Zebras, which I last posted about back in 2006. I noted then that the Tijuana tradition of painting donkeys to look like zebras was dying out, but perhaps it's reemerging in Sussex.
Categories: Animals, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 22, 2011
Comments (2)
There's a long history of hoaxers finding ways to slip fake stories into newspapers. Back in 1864 Joseph Howard tried to manipulate the New York stock market by sending fake Associated Press telegrams to newspaper offices. The telegrams claimed Lincoln had decided to conscript an extra 400,000 men into the Union army. Several papers printed the fake news. The stock market panicked, because the news suggested the Civil War was going to drag on for a lot longer, and Howard (who had invested heavily in gold) made a nice profit.

During the 1870s and 1880s, Joseph Mulhattan (a very odd character) made a kind of career out of tricking newspapers into printing fake stories. One of his more notorious hoaxes was when he fooled papers into reporting that a giant meteor had fallen in Texas. And on April Fool's Day 1915, a worker in the printing press of the Boston Globe surreptitiously made a minor alteration to the front page of the paper, lowering its price from Two Cents per Copy to One cent.

Technology changes, but the hoaxes remain much the same. And so yesterday a group of pranksters calling themselves The Script Kiddies (or TH3 5CR1PT K1DD3S) managed to hack into the Twitter feed of NBC News and posted a series of fake newsflashes. The first of these announced: "Breaking News! Ground Zero has just been attacked. Flight 5736 has crashed into the site, suspected hijacking. more as the story develops."

Obviously NBC News didn't much appreciate this. Their Twitter account was soon taken offline and the fake messages deleted.

The Script Kiddies perpetrated a similar stunt back in July when they hacked into the Twitter account of Fox News and posted tweets claiming President Obama was dead.

According to an interview they conducted with Think magazine, The Script Kiddies see themselves as anti-corporate activists, and they intend their pranks to embarrass and annoy the corporations they target.
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Journalism, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Mon Sep 12, 2011
Comments (1)
pregnant womanHere's a slightly different spin on the old fake pregnancy prank. (Reality Rule 1.1 in Hippo Eats Dwarf is "Just because a woman looks pregnant, it doesn't mean she is."

As a social experiment, the Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol made one of their operatives appear to be pregnant. Then they sent her to the state fair and had her stand around in full view drinking beer. They wanted to see if anyone would say something to her about how she shouldn't drink alcohol while pregnant. They even had the woman approach strangers with her beer in hand and ask them to take photos of her drinking.

The result: No one said anything negative to her. In fact, a few people congratulated her for drinking while pregnant.

They concluded that the "Minnesota Nice" thing may have undermined their experiment.

Or perhaps the woman should have stood around doing vodka shots. That might have produced more of a reaction. Though this is the third time they've run the experiment (once at last year's state fair and once in a downtown bar), and the other times they did get a few negative remarks.

However, from the perspective of social psychology, I'd say that the non-response is most likely a manifestation of the Unresponsive Bystander Effect. In situations involving large crowds, people are very reluctant to step forward and offer help (or criticism). There's the natural tendency to assume that it's someone else's responsibility. The non-response also becomes self-perpetuating. People take their cues from those around them. So if no one reacts to a situation, everyone assumes it's because there's no problem.
Categories: Birth/Babies
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 08, 2011
Comments (7)
Here's an example of how people can interpret what is basically the same phenomenon in very different ways. Yesterday, kcautv.com (Sioux City, IA) reported that the Sioux City police were concerned about shoes hanging from power lines, noting that far from being just a harmless prank, the dangling shoes have a sinister meaning. They "give the alert that there is drug activity here. That you can find your drug needs at this location or in this area." (I've blogged about Secret Powerline Codes before).

However, over in Olney, Illinois (home of the white squirrels) a couple woke to find 31 hats hanging from a tree in their front yard. Instead of worrying that the hats had a sinister meaning, they concluded their presence there was just "good, clean fun." In fact, they decided their sons must have put the hats in the tree as a roundabout way of saying "Hats off to you, Mom and Dad," or "We'll always have a place to hang our hats."

The parents don't seem to have considered the possibility that the hats mean, "We're selling drugs here, Mom and Dad!"
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 08, 2011
Comments (6)
The brilliant (or incredibly stupid) idea behind CLOO is to use social networking to make it easier to find somewhere to pee in big cities. The CLOO website explains:

CLOO' is based on one simple truth— we all have to pee. Though in urban cities finding a clean, available restroom is difficult & frustrating. That’s where CLOO' comes in.

CLOO' is a community of registered users who choose to share their bathrooms and make city-living easier, while earning a small profit. Using social media connections, CLOO' shows what friends you have in common with the host, turning a stranger’s loo into a friend of a friend’s loo.


cloo

It's one of those concepts that raises so many problematic issues that you have to wonder whether it's real or just a joke. And people have been asking this question on twitter. To which CLOO responds that they're "quite real".

I suspect CLOO is meant to be taken seriously. There have been other strange toilet ideas that turned out to be real. Remember the Microsoft iLoo?

However, in an interview with CNET the people behind CLOO — Hillary Young and Deanna McDonald — admit that they have no funding to take their concept out of a prototype stage. Which makes its reality status a moot point. (Thanks, Bob!)
Categories: Gross, Social Networking Sites, Websites
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 08, 2011
Comments (3)
Over the weekend I received the following letter in the mail from UST Development, Inc.:

ust development

I had no idea who this company was, or why I owed them money. Nevertheless, my first reaction was to assume that the invoice must somehow be related to one of the contractors I've had work on my house during the past year -- and that I should therefore probably pay it. But then my more suspicious instincts kicked in, and I decided to google the company.

The first result that popped up was scaminformer.com, on which quite a few people were reporting having received the identical letter -- even though no one had ever heard of this company before, or done any business with them.

This company is evidently hoping that some people will simply pay the phony invoice without bothering to check it out first. And they're probably right.

I noticed that the invoice says: "Thank you for your business. This is not a statement for services rendered but for preventative maintenance."

The company probably hopes that this weasel phrasing provides them with some legal protection. Although I'm sure that the only preventative maintenance that would be achieved by paying them would be to prevent their bank account from getting lower.

I've already filed a complaint with the California Attorney General about the invoice. And, of course, I'm posting about it here to help spread the word.
Categories: Scams
Posted by Alex on Tue Sep 06, 2011
Comments (3)
The collecting-junk-for-charity hoax must be at least a century old by now. It resurfaced most recently in Orangeburg, South Carolina, where members of a church had been collecting plastic bottle caps, thinking the caps would somehow help pay for chemotherapy treatment for a sick child.

One of the church members, when she learned the truth, had this to say about the hoax: "It's a form of terrorism because it disrupts your day-to-day life and prevents you from doing the things you want to accomplish."

That may be stretching the definition of terrorism just a little bit. Though I can understand why she's upset.

The article also noted some other examples of this hoax that have occurred within the past three years:
In 2008, several women in North East England were approached by a woman in a shopping center who told them she was collecting caps to help provide wheelchairs for disabled children. They collected thousands of caps over a period of months but were unable to reach the woman and had no idea where to send the bottle caps.
In 2008-09, the hoax hit West Virginia, where people collected thousands of caps for chemo treatments, only to find that the plastic was worthless.
Another story, designed to touch the hearts of America's military, was that bottle caps could be recycled for prosthetic limbs.
In 2010, American soldiers at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan had collected thousands and thousands of the caps when an investigation by Lt. Col. Thomas Rodrigues, the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing's judge advocate general, revealed the story was a hoax. He contacted the largest prosthetic limb manufacturer in the United States and learned that bottle caps could not be used in their products. He also found that no one on the base knew who the beneficiary was or what to do with the collected caps.
Categories: Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Mon Sep 05, 2011
Comments (3)
concrete jesusVirgin Mary Sea Shell
Felicia Avila of Rio Grande Valley found a sea shell that she says bears the image of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus. valleycentral.com

concrete jesusVirgin Mary Rock
Tammy Tollett was vacationing in Lake Tahoe when she found a rock that she believes looks like the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus. She says this is the real deal (unlike, presumably, all those other phony pareidolia). orlandosentinel.com

concrete jesusConcrete Jesus Face
The face of Jesus materialized on Mary Vasquez's concrete patio. She's lived in the apartment for 18 months, but only noticed the Jesus face recently. Apparently she first tried scrubbing the face off her patio with soap. When that didn't work, she called the local newspaper. the33tv.com.

concrete jesusJesus on Cross
Clay Perry recently made a 7-inch cross from some leftover scraps of poplar wood. Then the grandfather of his nephew noticed it appeared to have the face of Jesus on it... right where the face should be at the top of the cross. Personally, I'm not seeing it. 11alive.com.
Categories: Pareidolia, Religion
Posted by Alex on Mon Sep 05, 2011
Comments (2)
I was walking through La Mesa last night (La Mesa, where I live, is a suburb of San Diego), when I came across a flyer for the Creation & Earth History Museum, which is down the road in Santee.


creation flyer


At the bottom of the flyer, as you can see, is a list of sponsors. Scantibodies, NOTW, 1:1, Christian Examiner, and KSDW didn't surprise me. They're all christian organizations. (The founders of the Creation Museum were also the founders of Scantibodies. KSDW is a bible radio station, and I don't know what 1:1 is, but I'm assuming it's some kind of reference to a biblical verse.)

But Krispy Kreme and Chick-fil-a surprised me. They're sponsoring creation science? Seems like an odd publicity move for them. Am I now going to have to boycott them? (Not that I go to either one much already.) I've sent their pr offices an email to confirm that this sponsorship is real.

Even odder is that I don't believe there's either a Krispy Kreme or a Chick-fil-a in Santee itself. So it's not like they're neighbors.

As I was contemplating this flyer, it occurred to me that a perfect location for the Museum of Hoaxes would be to park it right next door to the Creation Museum. I could work there and stay in San Diego.

Edit: Apparently Chick-fil-a is an openly Christian corporation, which leaves Krispy Kreme as the odd-man-out in the list of sponsors.
Categories: Pseudoscience, Religion
Posted by Alex on Fri Sep 02, 2011
Comments (22)
It's official. American Express's Travel and Leisure Magazine has chosen the Museum of Hoaxes as one of America's Kitschiest Roadside Attractions. We're honored to be recognized in this way!

kitschy attraction


Categories: Exploration/Travel, Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 01, 2011
Comments (9)
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